5. The Environmental Impact of Populations


Articles from 2008–present

See also Articles from 2002–2007

2020-07-30. India’s Food Bowl Heads Toward Desertification. By Gurpreet Singh, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Water-guzzling rice consumes more water than Punjab can recharge. If current irrigation rates continue, the state will empty its groundwater reserves within 20 years. ...In the mid-1960s, Punjab’s agricultural sector blossomed, owing in part to federal subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides. In the 1970s, the state government established a corporation to access the region’s abundant groundwater by constructing thousands of wells. Today at least 40% of India’s surplus food stocks are harvested in Punjab. ...In the pursuit of growing more rice and wheat, more than 1.4 million agriculture tube wells have been dug in Punjab over the past 60 years. On average, groundwater levels have sunk 51 centimeters every year. Last year, groundwater levels fell more than 60 centimeters, said Gopal Krishan, a hydrology and soil scientist at India’s National Institute of Hydrology.... “This is alarming,” he said. More than 3.35 cubic meters of water are needed to grow 1 kilogram of rice, according to India’s Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. Cultivated over 2.7 million hectares, an estimated 11 billion kilograms of rice grow in Punjab every season. The water demanded by these rice crops (equivalent to nearly 36 billion cubic meters of water) amounts to 27 times more than the yearly household consumption (1.3 billion cubic meters) by the 28 million people living in the state.... [https://eos.org/articles/indias-food-bowl-heads-toward-desertification]  

2020-06-17. How Humanity Unleashed a Flood of New Diseases. By Ferris Jabr, The New York Times. Excerpt: What do Covid-19, Ebola, Lyme and AIDS have in common? They jumped to humans from animals after we started destroying habitats and ruining ecosystems. ...Zoonotic pathogens do not typically seek us out nor do they stumble onto us by pure coincidence. When diseases move from animals to humans, and vice versa, it is usually because we have reconfigured our shared ecosystems in ways that make the transition much more likely. Deforestation, mining, intensive agriculture and urban sprawl destroy natural habitats, forcing wild creatures to venture into human communities. Excessive hunting, trade and consumption of wildlife significantly increase the probability of cross-species infection. Modern transportation can disperse dangerous microbes across the world in a matter of hours. “Human-caused ecological pressures and disruptions are bringing animal pathogens ever more into contact with human populations,” David Quammen wrote in his 2012 book “Spillover,” “while human technology and behavior are spreading those pathogens ever more widely and quickly.”... [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/17/magazine/animal-disease-covid.html]  

2020-06-11. Thousands of Tons of Microplastics Are Falling from the Sky. By Scott Hershberger, Scientific American. Excerpt: Carried by the wind, dust particles from places such as the Sahara Desert can float halfway around the world before settling to the ground. As the plastics discarded by humans break down into tiny pieces in the environment, they, too, drift through the atmosphere. ...Researchers spent more than a year collecting microplastics from 11 national parks and wilderness areas in the western U.S. ...the results, published on Thursday in Science [https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6496/1257], reveal the sheer scale of the problem: more than 1,000 metric tons of microplastics—the weight of 120 million to 300 million plastic water bottles—fall on protected lands in the country’s western region each year. The new findings add to scientists’ concern over microplastic pollution’s potential impacts on the environment and human health. ...Plastics in the environment “carry all sorts of pesticides, heavy metals and all the other chemicals that we've made over time,” he adds. “They're going to carry them directly into our lungs.” ...Janice Brahney, a watershed scientist at Utah State University and lead author of the new study, initially set out to investigate how dust carries nutrients, not plastic. But after peering into her microscope and seeing colorful beads and fibers among the bits of dust, she refocused her efforts. ... The particles and fibers they captured originated as carpeting, paint, cosmetic products, camping gear, and more. But the largest contribution came from clothing. ...The scientists found microplastics in almost every sample they collected. In total, 4 percent of the identifiable dust particles were plastic. Brahney and her colleagues “immediately realized the gravity of what we were seeing,” she says. “That was a moment of being just completely astounded.”... [https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/thousands-of-tons-of-microplastics-are-falling-from-the-sky/ ] See also article in Science [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/plastic-dust-blowing-us-national-parks-more-1000-tons-each-year] and New York Times article [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/11/climate/airborne-plastic-pollution.html].

2020-04-13. China Limited the Mekong’s Flow. Other Countries Suffered a Drought. By Hannah Beech, The New York Times. Excerpt: ...farmers and fishers across the Mekong River region were contending with the worst drought in living memory. ...new research from American climatologists shows for the first time that China, where the headwaters of the Mekong spring forth from the Tibetan Plateau, was not experiencing the same hardship at all. Instead, Beijing’s engineers appear to have directly caused the record low water levels by limiting the river’s flow. ...The Mekong is one of the most fertile rivers on earth, nurturing tens of millions of people with its nutrient rich waters and fisheries. But a series of dams, mostly in China, have robbed the river’s riches.... [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/world/asia/china-mekong-drought.html

2020-04-16. ‘There’s No More Water’: Climate Change on a Drying Island. By Tommy Trenchard, The New York Times. Excerpt: A delicate ecosystem was disrupted in the Comoros, off East Africa, when forests were cleared to make way for farmland. The consequences offer lessons for other parts of the developing world. ...The island, part of the nation of the Comoros off the East African coast, receives more annual rainfall than most of Europe. But a combination of deforestation and climate change has caused at least half of its permanent rivers to stop flowing in the dry season. Since the 1950s, the island has been clearing forests to make way for farmland and in the process disrupted a delicate ecosystem.... [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/world/africa/comoros-climate-change-rivers.html

2020-03-06. Human Composting Is a Greener Way to Go. By Kimberly M. S. Cartier, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: ...In 2019, 93.8% of people who died in the United States were either buried or cremated, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. However, those two funeral methods each have a large environmental impact. Burial puts millions of liters of embalming fluid and thousands of cubic meters of wood into the ground. The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by cremation is equivalent to driving a car hundreds of kilometers. ...Composting deceased persons, or natural organic reduction, provides another sustainable alternative to cremation and burial. The concept got its start from the widespread practice of composting dead livestock. ...In the pilot study, the researchers composted six donated research subjects using natural plant material as a starter. After 4–7 weeks, each body turned 2–3 cubic yards of starter into 1.5–2 cubic yards of compost and bones. ...Human composting has a long way to go before it becomes commonplace. In May 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize the practice. Similar legislation is under consideration in California and Colorado.... [https://eos.org/articles/human-composting-is-a-greener-way-to-go

2020-02-13. Science Gets Up to Speed on Dry Rivers. By Margaret Shanafield, et al, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Australia’s third-longest river, the Darling, normally experiences periods of medium to low flow, punctuated by flood events. But vast stretches of the river in New South Wales have been bone dry for the past two summers, and in 2019 the river was dry by early spring. The lack of flows has left communities along its banks in dire straits, with many trucking in water to serve even basic domestic water requirements. Millions of dollars have been spent building pipelines to distant reservoirs, while groundwater resources have also been put under increased stress to fill gaps. River ecosystems have also felt the impacts acutely, with mass fish deaths being just one example. Periods of drought are partly responsible for the diminishing flows in the Darling. More important, however, are increasing water withdrawals over several decades that have taken a toll on this river, whose flow has been heavily altered by damming and diversion for irrigation. The challenges posed by the increasing frequency and duration of no-flow periods in rivers are not unique to arid regions: Over half of the world’s streams and rivers are dry for some part of the year, and the geographic extent of nonperennial waterways is forecast to increase because of climate change and increasing water use. Headwaters in humid regions typically also dry out for part of the year because they drain such small regions. These streams, too, are being affected by climate change.... [https://eos.org/opinions/science-gets-up-to-speed-on-dry-rivers

2019-12-30. In Indonesia, Outlaw Gold Miners Poison Themselves to Survive. By Richard C. PaddockPhotographs by Adam Dean, The New York Times. 

2019-12-30. ‘A Slow-Motion Chernobyl’: How Lax Laws Turned a River Into a Disaster. By Steve Fisher and Elisabeth Malkin, The New York Times. 

2019-11-15. Modeling How Groundwater Pumping Will Affect Aquatic Ecosystems. By Adityarup Chakravorty, Eos/AGU.

2019-10-22. The World Can Make More Water From the Sea, but at What Cost? By Henry Fountain, The New York Times.

2019-08-17. New maps show how little is left of West Coast estuaries. By Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle.

2019-05-28. Food Delivery Apps Are Drowning China in Plastic. By Raymond Zhong and Carolyn Zhang, The New York Times. 

2019-05-08. Two-thirds of the world’s longest rivers no longer run free. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine.

2019-05-06. Biodiversity Report Paints a Bleak Picture. By Randy Showstack, Eos/AGU. 

2018-10-18. Searching for Water Across Borders. By Jeff Nesbit, The New York Times.

2016-04-29. The case for farmed fish. By Dan Farber, UC Berkeley Blog.

2015-11-16. Celebrating United Nations World Toilet Day. By Cathy Cockrell, UC Berkeley News Center.

2015-10-20. SUBWAY® Restaurants Elevates Current Antibiotic-Free Policy U. S. Restaurants Will Only Serve Animal Proteins That Have Never Been Treated With Antibiotics. Subway Policy Statement.

2015-05-01. Hacking Our Diet. onEarth magazine of NRDC.

2014-12-23. Restored Forests Breathe Life Into Efforts Against Climate Change. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times.

2014-06-09. Of Fish, Monsoons and the Future. Excerpt: AKOL, CAMBODIA — ...Tonle Sap Lake... yields about 300,000 tons of fish, making it one of the world’s most productive freshwater ecosystems. ...But the Tonle Sap is in trouble — from overfishing to feed a fast-growing population, from the cutting of mangrove forests that shelter young fish, from hydroelectric dams upstream, and from the dry seasons that are expected to grow hotter and longer with climate change. ...Keo Mao, a 42-year-old fisherman from Akol, says he hopes his five children can find a way out of the life that has sustained his family for generations. “The lake now is not really so good,” he said. “There are too many people.”...Cambodia’s population is growing rapidly, at a rate of nearly 2 percent a year. Many rural Cambodians, including subsistence farmers displaced by land grants to large agribusinesses, have migrated to the Tonle Sap from upland areas. Others come after selling their farmland to pay off debt. From 1998 to 2008, the most recent period studied, the number of full-time Tonle Sap fishermen grew by 38 percent to 38,200, and the number of lakeside farmers, many of whom fish part time, increased 33 percent to 520,800. ...“But the human aspect of an ecosystem is crucial,” said Jianguo Liu, who leads the International Network of Research on Coupled Human and Natural Systems, or Chans-net, a network of 1,300 ecologists, economists, and sociologists. “The central message of Chans is that humans and nature are coupled, just like husband and wife,” says Dr. Liu, director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University. “They interact, work together, and the impacts are not just one way. There are feedbacks.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/10/science/of-fish-monsoons-and-the-future.html. By Chris Berdik, The New York Times.

2014-05-19. A Sacred Reunion: The Colorado River Returns to the Sea.  Excerpt: ...It is the first time in sixteen years that the Colorado River, which flows 1,450 miles (2,334 kilometers) from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) in northwestern Mexico, will have reached its final, natural destination. This reunion between river and sea is due to an agreement between Mexico and the United States, known as Minute 319, to advance the restoration of the Colorado Delta by releasing a pulse flow and sustaining base flows in a five-year experiment. The pulse flow, which began on March 23, is now nearing its end.  Scientists had not planned on the river reaching its estuary as part of this grand experiment.  But that it has, is a wonderful bonus. This confluence of the river and the high tides signals that “improving estuarine conditions in this upper part of the estuary is possible if restoration efforts continue in the future,” [wrote] Francisco Zamora, director of the Colorado River Delta Legacy Program at the Sonoran Institute. ...Before the big dams and diversions of the 20th century, the Colorado’s nutrient-rich freshwater mixed with the Upper Gulf’s salty tides to create the perfect water chemistry and nursery grounds for Gulf corvina, totoaba, brown and blue shrimp, and other fisheries of great commercial and cultural importance to the region and to the indigenous Cucapá....  http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/05/19/a-sacred-reunion-the-colorado-river-returns-to-the-sea/ - By Sandra Postel of National Geographic.

2013-07-06.  The real threat to our future is peak water.  Excerpt: As population rises, overpumping means some nations have reached peak water, which threatens food supply. ...Today some 18 countries, containing half the world's people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers – China, India, and the United States – and several other populous countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Mexico. During the last two decades, several of these countries have overpumped to the point that their aquifers are being depleted and their wells are going dry. They have passed not only peak water, but also peak grain production. ...Among the countries whose use of water has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In these countries peak grain has followed peak water.... After being self-sufficient in wheat for over 20 years, the Saudis announced in early 2008 that, with their aquifers largely depleted, they would reduce wheat planting by one-eighth each year until 2016, when production would end. By then Saudi Arabia projects it will be importing some 15m tons of wheat, rice, corn and barley to feed its Canada-sized population of 30 million. It is the first country to publicly project how aquifer depletion will shrink its grain harvest.... Syria...grain production peaked in 2002... Iraq peaked in 2004. ...in the Arab Middle East the world is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. ...In the United States, farmers are over-pumping in the Western Great Plains, including in several leading grain-producing states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. ...but the water is drawn from the Ogallala aquifer, a huge underground water body that stretches from Nebraska southwards to the Texas Panhandle. It is, unfortunately, a fossil aquifer, one that does not recharge. Once it is depleted, the wells go dry and farmers either go back to dryland farming or abandon farming altogether, depending on local conditions.... http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/jul/06/water-supplies-shrinking-threat-to-food. Lester Brown, The Observer.

2013-04.  28,000 Rivers Disappeared in China: What Happened?. Angel Hsu and William Miao, The Atlantic.  Excerpt: ...As recently as 20 years ago, there were an estimated 50,000 rivers in China, .... But now ... more than 28,000 of these rivers are missing. ...Official explanations from the Chinese government have attributed the significant reduction to statistical discrepancies, water and soil loss, and climate change. ...Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and a leading water expert agrees: "Climate change is a real threat to the world's resources, and we already see evidence of impacts on water availability, quality, and extreme events. But the water challenges in China are far greater than just climate change," he said. Pinning the rivers' disappearance on climate change is politically palatable right now, and the human origin of global warming is not controversial in China. But in an unusual twist, blaming climate change allows officials to absolve themselves of the poor management, governance, lack of groundwater extraction controls, and rapid development that are more likely culprits for the river's disappearances. "As China's population and economy have rapidly grown, the country has experienced serious degradation of its water resources, including massive overuse and contamination," Gleick said. "The 'disappearance' of major rivers and streams is far more likely to be directly connected to uncontrolled and unsustainable extraction of water for industry and agriculture, though climate change may play a greater role in the future." .... http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/04/what-happened-to-chinas-rivers/275365

2013-04-23.  In China, Breathing Becomes a Childhood Risk. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/world/asia/pollution-is-radically-changing-childhood-in-chinas-cities.html. Edward Wong, New York Times.  Excerpt:   ...Levels of deadly pollutants up to 40 times the recommended exposure limit in Beijing and other cities have struck fear into parents and led them to take steps that are radically altering the nature of urban life for their children. Parents are confining sons and daughters to their homes, even if it means keeping them away from friends. Schools are canceling outdoor activities and field trips. Parents with means are choosing schools based on air-filtration systems, and some international schools have built gigantic, futuristic-looking domes over sports fields to ensure healthy breathing. “I hope in the future we’ll move to a foreign country,” Ms. Zhang, a lawyer, said as her ailing son, Wu Xiaotian, played on a mat in their apartment, near a new air purifier. “Otherwise we’ll choke to death.” ...Scientific studies justify fears of long-term damage to children and fetuses. A study published by The New England Journal of Medicine showed that children exposed to high levels of air pollution can suffer permanent lung damage. The research was done in the 1990s in Los Angeles, where levels of pollution were much lower than those in Chinese cities today. A study by California researchers published last month suggested a link between autism in children and the exposure of pregnant women to traffic-related air pollution. Columbia University researchers, in a study done in New York, found that prenatal exposure to air pollutants could result in children with anxiety, depression and attention-span problems. Some of the same researchers found in an earlier study that children in Chongqing, China, who had prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollutants from a coal-fired plant were born with smaller head circumferences, showed slower growth and performed less well on cognitive development tests at age 2. The shutdown of the plant resulted in children born with fewer difficulties. ...Some children’s hospitals in northern China reported a large number of patients with respiratory illnesses this winter, when the air pollution soared. During one bad week in January, Beijing Children’s Hospital admitted up to 9,000 patients a day for emergency visits, half of them for respiratory problems, according to a report by Xinhua, the state news agency. ...Face masks are now part of the urban dress code....

20 April 2012. Food for thought on greenhouse gas emissions by Rachel Berkowitz,   PhysicsToday. Excerpt: The third highest greenhouse gas contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide and methane, N2O is the most potent of the three gases because it's a better absorber of IR radiation. We humans generate 6 million metric tons of nitrogen as N2O emissions, and 10 billion metric tons of carbon as CO2, per year. But it's going to be tricky to reduce N2O emissions, as food production processes have been accelerating to feed Earth’s growing human population, which is currently at 7 billion. The nitrogen-use efficiency of crops is far from perfect, and efficiency is further reduced when crops are used as animal feed. Eric Davidson, president and a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, ... calculated that to stabilize atmospheric N2O concentrations at 345 ppb, people would need to reduce both their meat consumption and industry emissions by 50%... lends new value to Albert Einstein’s observation that “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."….

5 June 2011. A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself by Justin Gillis. Excerpt: The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries. Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost...
Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system: climate change...
For nearly two decades, scientists had predicted that climate change would be relatively manageable for agriculture, suggesting that even under worst-case assumptions, it would probably take until 2080 for food prices to double…
Until a few years ago, these assumptions went largely unchallenged. But lately, the destabilization of the food system and the soaring prices have rattled many leading scientists.

2010 June 30. The Asian Century Calls for a Rethink on Growth. By Kevin Brown, The Financial Times. Excerpt: …The United Nations is forecasting that the world’s population will rise by more than 40 per cent to 9.3bn by 2050, with the proportion living in cities increasing to 70 per cent from slightly more than 50 per cent today. But the impact will be concentrated in Asia, where two-thirds of the world’s population lives, and where rapid economic growth is accelerating the natural process of urbanisation. While Europe is dealing with the problems of ageing, Asia (excluding Japan) will be trying to cope with a rush to the cities estimated at nearly 140,000 people a day.
…The physical manifestations of the dash for gross domestic product are obvious over much of the continent. In Mumbai, shanty towns breed resentment among street dwellers starving next to the luxury apartment blocks of the rich. In Hong Kong and Shenzhen, air pollution clogs the lungs of billionaires and their immigrant maids alike. In Kuala Lumpur, cars belch fumes in barely moving traffic jams because no government has yet built a metro system.
…The worst of these crises is already upon us. At least nine countries, including India and China, are officially regarded as “water stressed” because they have access to less than 1,700 cubic metres per person per year. Arjun Thapan, the Asian Development Bank’s special adviser on water and infrastructure, says the gap between supply and demand will reach 40 per cent by 2030, as population growth and rising prosperity trigger greater demand from industry and agriculture. Climate change is likely to make the shortage even worse. India, for example, gets much of its water from a short monsoon season. If rain falls more heavily than expected, or in different places, much of it may run off uncollected.
…What is really needed, though, is a new approach to growth. Noeleen Heyzer, head of the UN’s economic and social commission for Asia and the Pacific, says the impact of trying to maintain the existing growth pattern over the next 15 years would be environmentally and socially devastating. Governments in Asia, she says, “simply do not have the luxury of growing first and cleaning up later”.

2010 June 2. UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy-Free Diet. By Felicity Carus, The Guardian. Excerpt:
...A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.
...As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.
...Both energy and agriculture need to be "decoupled" from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found.
...Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: "Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation."

2010 May 26. China-India Water Shortage Means Coca-Cola Joins Intel in Fight. By Cherian Thomas, Unni Krishnan, and Sophie Leung, Bloomberg. Excerpt: …Dagar and Zhou show the daily struggle with tainted or inadequate water in India and China, a growing shortage that the World Bank says will hamper growth in the world’s fastest- growing major economies….
…China’s 1.33 billion people each have 2,117 cubic meters of water available per year, compared with 1,614 cubic meters in India and as much as 9,943 cubic meters in the U.S., according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The 1.2 billion people in India, where farmers use 80 percent of available water, will exhaust their fresh-water supplies by 2050 at the current rate, the World Bank estimates.
…“Water is a resource under great pressure in China and globally,” said Kenth Kaerhoeg, a spokesman in Hong Kong for Coca-Cola Pacific, which has water recovery systems at its 39 plants in China to reduce consumption. “Economic development, climate change and population growth will increase pressure on freshwater resources in China.”
… India has concentrated on conservation. The government has made it mandatory for new houses and condominiums in cities to collect rainwater in an effort to curb a decline in groundwater levels.
…The Congress-led coalition is also implementing a six-year- old plan to replenish about a million lakes, ponds and water tanks. About 60 percent of India’s arable land still depends on the annual monsoon.

2010 May 25. Berkeley Lab Report: Simple Energy Efficiency Measures Can Eliminate Electricity Shortage in India. By Julie Chao, LBNL Newscenter. Excerpt: …As chaotic as things are, there is a solution: simple energy efficiency measures, according to a new report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), can eliminate the electricity deficit as early as 2013. What’s more, doing so will add $505 billion to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) between 2009 and 2017 (compared to India’s total GDP of $911 billion in 2007-2008), as businesses that have had to cut back due to electricity shortages can restore production. …The measures are feasible, Sathaye says, because in fact India has had energy efficiency programs in place in various sectors since at least 2001, when the government passed the Energy Conservation Act, which, among other things, created the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE). “Most developing countries hadn’t done anything like that in 2001,” Sathaye said. “It’s very unique. Neither the U.S. nor China have a bureau dedicated to energy efficiency.” …Still, the gap between electricity supply and demand continues to grow; India is now importing coal as well as natural gas to keep up with energy consumption. “Energy demand is increasing dramatically due to rising incomes, industrialization, urbanization and population growth,” said Mathur. “The demand will increase by a factor of two over the next 20 years and possibly by three. We’re in a very tight situation.”

2009 November 19. The New Republic: Combating Climate For The Ladies. By Lydia Depillis, NPR. Excerpt: Is climate change gender-neutral? Not according to the U.N. Population Fund, which earlier today released a report arguing that women suffer disproportionately from the impacts of global warming....
But on the flipside, the report argues, women are also in the best position to help mitigate both the causes and effects of rising temperatures — which is why policies to empower women, like targeted microloans and reproductive healthcare, shouldn't be treated as separate from climate policy.
...Letting women control their own reproductive destines is essential not only for their own well-being, but also to head off future emissions. Population growth, the UNFPA notes, has been responsible for between 40 percent to 60 percent of past emissions growth — and getting people to change their consumption habits has proven harder than simply helping women to make their own decisions on how many kids to have, through better education or access to birth control....
Beyond that, though, women are crucial to environmental management for things they can do, rather than things they can chose not to do. For example, women produce 60 percent to 80 percent of the food in developing countries, and often know agricultural techniques that sequester carbon and also keep fields in better shape....

2009 July 31. The Food, Energy and Environment ‘Trilemma’. By John Lorinc, The NY Times. Excerpt: At the 2009 Bio World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, held in Montreal last week, industry players and scientists found themselves pondering two seemingly contradictory concerns.
One focused on how rapid advances in genetic engineering and biotechnology can expand the market for cellulosic ethanol and other “second-generation biofuels,” which are touted as low-emission substitutes for corn ethanol (itself a partial substitute for gasoline).
The other involved the problem of ensuring that exponential growth in the global biofuel market — which is projected to grow 12.3 percent a year through 2017, according to one recent study of the industry — will not hurt the environment and divert vast tracks of arable land needed for food or grain production.
A paper published in Science earlier this month, referred to the triple challenges of energy, environment and food as the biofuel “trilemma.” The authors identified five “beneficial” sources of biomass: perennial plants grown on abandoned farm fields, crop residue, sustainably harvested wood residue, double or mixed crops, and industrial/municipal waste.
“In a world seeking solutions to its energy, environmental, and food challenges, society cannot afford to miss out on the global greenhouse-gas emission reductions and the local environmental and societal benefits when biofuels are done right,” the authors state. “However, society also cannot accept the undesirable impacts of biofuels done wrong.”...

2009 July 31. Family Planning Has Major Environmental Impact. ScienceDaily. Excerpt: Some people who are serious about wanting to reduce their "carbon footprint" on the Earth have one choice available to them that may yield a large long-term benefit – have one less child.
A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
The research also makes it clear that potential carbon impacts vary dramatically across countries. The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.
"In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime," said Paul Murtaugh, an OSU professor of statistics. "Those are important issues and it's essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources."
In this debate, very little attention has been given to the overwhelming importance of reproductive choice, Murtaugh said. When an individual produces a child – and that child potentially produces more descendants in the future – the effect on the environment can be many times the impact produced by a person during their lifetime.
Under current conditions in the U.S., for instance, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent – about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible....

2008 Nov. The Food and Farming Transition. by Richard Heinberg, MuseLetter #199. Excerpt: The only way to avert a food crisis resulting from oil and natural gas price hikes and supply disruptions while also reversing agriculture’s contribution to climate change is to proactively and methodically remove fossil fuels from the food system.
The removal of fossil fuels from the food system is inevitable: maintenance of the current system is simply not an option over the long term....
Given the degree to which the modern food system has become dependent on fossil fuels, many proposals for de-linking food and fuels are likely to appear radical. However, efforts toward this end must be judged not by the degree to which they preserve the status quo, but by their likely ability to solve the fundamental challenge that will face us: the need to feed a global population of 7 billion with a diminishing supply of fuels available to fertilize, plow, and irrigate fields and to harvest and transport crops.
If this transition is undertaken proactively and intelligently, there could be many side benefits—more careers in farming, more protection for the environment, less soil erosion, a revitalization of rural culture, and more healthful food for everyone....

2008 July 21. Mideast Facing Choice Between Crops and Water. By Andrew Martin, The New York Times. Excerpt: CAIRO — Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water.
For decades nations in this region have drained aquifers, sucked the salt from seawater and diverted the mighty Nile to make the deserts bloom. But those projects were so costly and used so much water that it remained far more practical to import food than to produce it. Today, some countries import 90 percent or more of their staples.
Now, the worldwide food crisis is making many countries in this politically volatile region rethink that math.
....The population of the region has more than quadrupled since 1950, to 364 million, and is expected to reach nearly 600 million by 2050. By that time, the amount of fresh water available for each person, already scarce, will be cut in half, and declining resources could inflame political tensions further.
“The countries of the region are caught between the hammer of rising food prices and the anvil of steadily declining water availability per capita,” Alan R. Richards, a professor of economics and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said via e-mail. “There is no simple solution.”...

2008 June 14. China Increases Lead as Biggest Carbon Dioxide Emitter. By Elisabeth Rosentha, The New York Times. Excerpt: China has clearly overtaken the United States as the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas, a new study has found, its emissions increasing 8 percent in 2007. The Chinese increase accounted for two-thirds of the growth in the year's global greenhouse gas emissions, the study found.
The report, released Friday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, found that in 2007 China's emissions were 14 percent higher than those of the United States. In the previous year's annual study, the researchers found for the first time that China had become the world's leading emitter, with carbon emissions 7 percent higher by volume than the United States in 2006.
"The difference had grown to a 14 percent difference, and that's indeed quite large," said Jos Olivier, a senior scientist at the Dutch agency. "It's now so large that it's quite a robust conclusion."
China's emissions are most likely to continue growing substantially for years to come because they are tied to the country's strong economic growth and its particular mix of industry and power sources, the researchers said.
China is heavily dependent on coal and has seen its most rapid growth in some of the world's most heavily polluting industrial sectors: cement, aluminum and plate glass.
The United States still has a vast lead in carbon dioxide emissions per person. The average American is responsible for 19.4 tons. Average emissions per person in Russia are 11.8 tons; in the European Union, 8.6 tons; China, 5.1 tons; and India, 1.8 tons.
Experts said the new data underscored the importance of getting China to sign on to any new global climate agreement. Neither China nor the United States participated in the current treaty to limit emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and will be replaced by a new agreement to be signed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009....

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